The wind whips against my face, the ocean’s rhythmic waves boldly brush the shores. I stare past the froth to the endless sea, transfixed.
A feeling of discomfort soon sets in. My mind is gripped by reality. I become aware of sun damage and, more immediately, the fact that I am bereft of inspiration for this week’s blog post.
I am comforted, knowing that this is the month of Elul when, according to Chassidic teaching, “the King is in the field.” Metaphorically, this means that G-d is very accessible to us in this month leading up to Rosh Hashanah. Typically, we may only approach G-d (the King) with preparation and protocol; in Elul, He’s eager and available to greet us wherever we are (in the field).
I ask Him to help me feel the way He wants me to feel—that every other Jew is an extension of myself. I ask Him to help me be more compassionate and loving, less judgmental and indifferent. Really, this year.
And as long as I’m asking: Can You please give me something to write about this week?
How could I have nothing to write at this time when G-d is more accessible? I look on chabad.org to clarify the customs of Elul—maybe I was missing something. The lead article reminds me to bless other Jews with wishes for a good and sweet New Year, hear the shofar, do extra spiritual stocktaking, learn more, give more tzedaka, and say three different chapters of Psalms (Tehillim) every day through Rosh Hashanah. I pretty much know all that. There is a suggestion I don’t know though—to say one particular chapter of Psalms, the same one, every day of the month.
Apparently, something registers that my Psalm plate is full; I don’t pay attention to which one of the 150 Psalms it is. It must be that Elul already means saying those three extra chapters every day. Besides, I already say the Psalms corresponding to the Hebrew day of the month, plus the chapter I say for myself (I was told it’s good to do that—you just have to round up your age to the next year and say that number), plus the Psalms I have offered to say for people who need some divine assistance.
One day ends and another begins. Still, nothing to write about. I click on chabad.org again. This time, I am greeted by a piece by Chana Weisberg (my chabad.org editor, it so happens). It beckons me to “take 3 minutes for 3 steps of deliverance” in Elul. Okay, I think, if it’ll help ensure a good year, I’ll follow the advice. I’ll worry about inspiration later.
The advice, it turns out, is to say that one special chapter of Psalms after praying every day in the month of Elul, the chapter I didn’t know about, the suggestion I somehow wasn’t moved to take the day before. This one chapter contains King David’s words that fortify us for the coming year, regardless of our challenges: First, G‑d illuminates our path so we can take action; second, G‑d protects us and removes the obstacle; and third, G‑d brings us to a place of safety. When we look for G-d in each of those three states, we are granted peace.
The Psalm that gives us the strength to do so is Psalm 27, known as LiDovid Hashem Ori. It’s the same chapter I have recently been saying every day for a young man who was diagnosed about a year ago with a serious autoimmune disease. Initially I was eager to help this difficult situation—I even made sure to find out when his birthday was so I could be sure to say the proper chapter for him—but, I had been noticing lately that my enthusiasm was waning. I was starting to wonder when I would be done praying for him on a daily basis. Somehow though, I managed to continue saying Psalm 27 every day— and feeling pretty holy for overcoming my resistance to doing it. Now I appreciate that, while I was indeed saying “his” chapter, I was spiritually benefiting in a way I didn’t even realize. (Oops.)
Here’s what I’m pondering: after almost thirty years of Elul preparations, why did I never know until this year about Psalm 27? And why didn’t I consider the importance of saying this chapter until the second time I saw it? (Oops again.)
From my perspective, the “King” wanted to provide me with a blog post—and some reminders of what I need to improve for the coming year.